by Brian Orlotti
Several events over the past few weeks have highlighted China’s growing influence both in space affairs and the world at large.
For example, the International Planetary Congress, a major space conference, is being held Sept 10th to 15th in Beijing, China for the first time. The event is organized by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) in co-operation with the Association of Space Explorers (ASE), a group which represents some 400 astronauts/cosmonauts from 35 nations.
The Congress’ theme is “Cooperation: To Realize Humanity’s Space Dream Together.” Chinese astronauts (called Taikonauts) will present reports from their previous spaceflights and China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei, will present an invitation to the international community to join China in building its upcoming space station.
Last summer, Chinese officials stated that China’s 60-ton multi-module manned station is being fast tracked, with the first module to be launched in 2018 (two years earlier than previously announced). Additional modules are to be launched in 2020 and 2022.
As stated in the September 10th, 2014 Canadian Press article “Chris Hadfield to attend international space conference in China,” retired astronaut Chris Hadfield will be attending as Canada’s sole representative and will participate in a discussion panel with Chinese taikonauts on common space mission experiences.
According to the article, Hadfield, a former ASA president, said that he hopes that the Congress will spur a new round of international cooperation in space and, while China’s long term goals would include a manned Lunar base, the best model for that might be the existing international partnerships which helped to build the International Space Station (ISS).
Although Hadfield tiptoed around the International Planetary Congress’ political significance, the desire to work with the Chinese at either the governmental or private level was apparent when he stated:
Even if they (the Chinese) don’t make a direct overture, it is still 100 people who are quite influential in the space business having a chance — without a specific political agenda — to get together and talk about opportunities and build further relationships.
Hadfield’s remarks come on the heels of his July 2014 visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as outlined in the August 11th, 2014 post “Hadfield in Emirates, Russia in Lather & UrtheCast in Orbit,” when he publicly stating his interest in helping the UAE to set up its own space agency and launch a Mars probe in 2021.
Also attending the conference are some 30 space travelers from the US, including active NASA astronauts. The Americans are attending as private citizens and ASE members, however, and not as official NASA representatives. NASA is prohibited by US law from space cooperation with China.
Stronger ties with China in space could very well flow from Canada’s now-stronger economic links with China. As outlined in the September 12th, 2014 National Post article “Ottawa ratifies foreign investment deal with China despite tensions,” the Canadian government last week recently ratified the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA), a controversial 31-year foreign investment agreement with China.
Critics of FIPA say that the agreement will grant China control of Canada’s national resources while blocking Canadian businesses access to protected Chinese industries. FIPA advocates claim that the agreement will allow Chinese capital to flow into Canadian industry, spurring job creation and growth in a time of economic difficulty.
History has shown again and again that leadership vacuums are inevitably filled. Should the space programs of the US, Europe and Russia continue to remain in stasis, others are ready to step in and fill the void.